"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Thursday, September 08, 2011

the town that doesn't read

...breeds really myopic people.

i currently live in Fremont, CA. i don't love it. i've only lived here 5.5 months, but as a kid, my family and i would visit our family in the Bay Area and we'd stay at my aunt's house in Fremont. in my encounters and experiences with Fremont denizens, i've come to realize the people here are... how should i put this... not intellectually inclined.

it's a difficult thing to explain, since i risk coming across as mean and supremely judgmental, but here it is anyway: Fremont ("Freak-mont" as my cousin from LA likes to call it) is extremely superficial in a way that ought to put LA to shame (that utterance in itself is pretty damning). while LA proved to be a pleasant blend of Midwestern/East Coast transplants, outdoor enthusiasts, intellectuals, activists and community advocates, the extremely poor and the extremely wealthy, the deluded and the jaded and the absolutely crazy, Fremont is predominantly one type of person: privileged. not only privileged, but delusionally privileged, self-importantly privileged, unmercifully privileged, ignorantly privileged. and if there's one thing i can't stand, it's privilege without any responsibility.

the problem with this kind of community is that privilege, and all the trappings of extravagant wealth, are normalized. everyone works at their tech industry job from 9-7, drives their BMW/Mercedes/Lexus to work out at their designer gyms, has dinner at one of many restaurants in the area, and goes home to their mini-mansions and their loveless sexless family lives with their spouse and 2.5 kids. the kids i've encountered who grow up here are terrifying: pre-teens carry Chanel purses and follow their mommies around at the mall, families have Sunday dinner at a restaurant, everyone staring blankly into the gentle glow of a smart phone or iPad. the children all seemed perfectly primed and ready to take their parents' places as the future CEOs and CFOs of america. i can ask my cousins how much a house or luxury car costs and they'll provide an answer in an instant, and with a little disdain for my ignorance, but when i probe them instead for information on the UC budget crisis, their eyes glaze over like robots that didn't understand the command, then shrug it off like it's not important and thus not worth knowing. for further comparison: a few weeks ago, i rode my bike out to the annual Arts and Culture fair to volunteer with a local environmental advocacy organization. my cousin, on the other hand, spent the day charging visitors to the fair $6 to park their car in the parking lot he co-opted with his friends. his parents openly lauded his entrepreneurial spirit, as they explained to me it's one of his most cherished "traditions." what a good capitalist!

comparing my upbringing with theirs makes me so glad my parents chose to be the "rebels" in the family and raise my brother and i in the midwest, while they both worked for a state university. i grew up reaping the benefits of the state and having a deep respect for public programs and institutions. i grew up valuing education and community service, rather than making money, and that has led me to take my undergraduate research very seriously, led me to teach special ed for two years in an underserved community, get a Master's, and now i plan to further my education and get an MPA from one of the best schools in the country so i can research and implement more progressive policies that protect the environment, reduce wealth disparities, and repair public programs so they better serve their communities. my relatives, on the other hand, balk at the mention of higher ed, none of them having gone past a Bachelor's degree in anything. their favorite way to spend their free time is watching tv, surfing the net, playing computer games, and finding additional ways of making money (day-trading, gambling, buying foreclosed houses and upselling them).

i'm always fascinated at the ways in which we choose lives for ourselves, how we carve our identities with chance and choice. being able to understand the story of your life and how you arrived at your convictions and passions is something i think about often, especially when i'm surrounded by so many people who i feel so different and disconnected from.

and, to tie it all up and to return to the reason i started writing in the first place: the reason i am so unhappy here in Fremont can be summed up in one poignant point: they don't read here. in my entire life, i've never known a public library that only opened one day a week from 10 to 5. that is the library closest to me, and it's holding my requested reading list hostage because i can't find time to go during their hours. the whole library system here is messed up and underfunded, understaffed, and underserving the community, you just need to view their hours to get a sense of how many children in the Silicon Valley area are not getting full access to the free literature they should. even more amazing, is that there are also no bookstores in the area to supplement this lack. i searched all of Fremont and neighboring cities to find a viable bookstore and only found one: a Half Price Books (the rest consisted of an adult bookstore, Islamic bookstore and a Zion Christian bookstore). it saddens me to think the nearest bookstore is a going-out-of-business Borders 24 miles away.

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